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Thought leadership series

30 August 2018, Action for Change, Research and Reports

A conversation with global experts on matters affecting children

Save the Children’s Thought Leadership Series gives you the opportunity to hear from some of the most important researchers and thinkers in our sector. It also invites you to be part of the conversation.

The series promises to inspire engaging discussions and enlightened insights on issues that impact our work. We hope you can join us for upcoming events in our national office in Carlton, Victoria or online via Skype.

Session #3 - Indonesia – Is our relationship better or worse?

The third discussion in our Thought Leadership Series explored the complex but crucial relationship between Australia and one of our closest neighbours, Indonesia. Save the Children’s Head of Policy and Advocacy, Majella Hurney was joined by leading academic and author Professor Damien Kingsbury, who among other accomplishments, was an adviser to the Aceh peace talks and has authored 11 books on political and security issues. 

Professor Kingsbury began with a short history of Australia-Indonesia relations, noting some moments of turbulence over the past 70 years including a fascinating break in diplomatic relations in 1983 over a controversial front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, critical of then Indonesia President Suharto.

The discussion moved to why a strong relationship with Indonesia was of such strategic importance to Australia. Professor Kingsbury explained that Indonesia is the world’s 3rd largest democracy and the largest economy in Asia. Indonesia is the main power broker in ASEAN, the regional intergovernmental organisation of ten Southeast Asian countries and a critical gateway into our trade relations with a number of these important neighbours. He paraphrased our former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans in suggesting that “if we can’t get our relationship with Indonesia right, we can’t get our relationship with Asia right”.

He noted that whilst it is a vastly better place for children to live today than 20 years ago, there is a growing disparity between the rich and the poor with 20% of the population living below the poverty line. Both Hurney and Kingsbury agreed that sustainable and inclusive development meant the development of human capital. Historically, Indonesia has been one of the largest recipients of Australian Aid and for the stability and security of the region, Australia needed to continue to support education and health initiatives that support Indonesian people. As Hurney noted “Australia is at a critical juncture in terms of how it allocates aid to Indonesia”.

Kingsbury was asked whether the differences between Australia and Indonesia came down to matters of culture. He was emphatic that “there is a continued need to build some foundation which goes beyond the day to day differences between our countries.” He added that given the vast differences among the various regions, cultures, styles and attitudes within Indonesia, “there is no singular Indonesian culture” anyway.

With both countries looking to national elections in 2019, the discussion touched on the rise of fundamentalist parties in Indonesian politics and reflected on measures that President Joko Widodo has taken to curb these influences. It will certainly be fascinating to see how both elections play out and how those results impact on this complex relationship between the two countries in the years to come.

You can listen to the whole discussion and others via the audio files below.

Thought Leadership Session #1

Session #1 - A discussion about child sexual abuse


Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM reflects on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse


CONTENT WARNING: This story contains mentions of domestic and family violence that some people may find distressing.

When the Australian Government announced it would establish a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse it expected it would run for a three-year term and that it would examine the cases of around 5,000 survivors of abuse. The Commission ended up running for five years with more than 17,000 people coming forward to tell their stories.

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald personally interviewed around 1800 of them. At times, for him, the experience was confronting.

“The school that I went to was named, the school my two boys went to was named. The Parish I went to was named. An assistant priest who I thought was terrific was named and was a serial abuser. So, I have to say sitting there and listening to these stories – for me and for some of the other commissioners – was deeply personal. I don’t think there was anyone who worked for the Commission who wasn’t affected by the experience.”

Robert spoke openly about the severity of the impact sexual abuse had on those who came forward. He talked about how – with its promise to talk to ‘anybody, anywhere’ – the investigation led to many interviews being conducted in prisons, with people who were struggling with day-to-day life and with many who feared about how the impact of their experiences might affect them as parents, partners and productive members of the community.

“I was gobsmacked from day one about how the impacts played out in people’s lives. That was one of the big learnings that came out of the Royal Commission,” Robert recalled. “The impacts for people are variable and they are long-term. That’s why we’ve got to have a support system that travels with people throughout their life. It doesn’t mean they need support all their life, it does mean that a system needs to be in place so that when they do need it, it’s available. And that’s one of the recommendations that we’ve made to the government.”

During the discussion, Robert spoke about how, for many, the Commission offered individuals their first experience of disclosure. How the fear of not being believed by school teachers, church leaders, police and parents had prevented them from ever wanting to talk about what had happened to them as children.

He also spoke about how many of the organisations implicated in the stories didn’t know how to apologise. That some institutions founded on the virtues of justice, love and compassion simply didn’t adopt those principles in practice. And that often, survivors of abuse simply wanted recognition of the fact they’d been abused, they wanted recognition of the impact it had on their lives and they wanted acknowledgement of the truth.

5 minutes with Jane French


Jane French is the Executive Director of Child Wise at Save the Children, and worked closely with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Here, she provides some further insights into the discussion.

What do the recommendations from the Royal Commission mean for the children and youth sectors?


The Royal Commission recommendations emphasise that every organisation where children and young people spend time, no matter how big or small, need to be aware of and comply with their obligations to keep children in their care safe from harm. Robert Fitzgerald stresses the need for child safety to be integrated in organisations ‘from boardroom to basement’ where the commitment to keep children safe is felt across the entire organisation. The Royal Commission recommends a complete examination and review of organisational policies, procedures and culture as they relate to child safety and the rights of children to participate, provide feedback and have their best interests represented in decisions that affect their safety and wellbeing.

How do we apply the new child safety standards to our work?


Firstly, a clear position on the importance of child safety is vital and should be the life blood of any organisation where children and young people spend time.  Appropriate vetting, training and supervision of staff and volunteers is vital, as is ensuring that they are clear about their role in working with children. Staff need to understand what child abuse is, how to identify and respond to signs, concerns, incidences or allegations of abuse, and minimize risks to children that may be both internal and external to the organisation. Importantly, organisations must establish ways to allow children to participate more strongly in how services are delivered, provide opportunities for children to voice their opinion and feel encouraged to speak up when they feel unsafe.

How can we make sure we are taking steps to keep children in institutions truly safe?


I understand the challenging position organisations find themselves in since the findings of the Royal Commission have come to light. It is a difficult and complex issue to tackle, and with child safety legislation changing rapidly, it can be overwhelming for organisations to step back from their day-to-day operations and examine their own systems, processes and culture and how they support or fail to support the safety of children in their care. To ensure child safety is implemented from ‘boardroom to basement’, Child Wise provides coaching of leadership teams to help them develop an organisational child safety mindset and transform the organisational culture.

How did your involvement with the Commission affect you personally and what did you take – from a professional standpoint – from the experience?

I am extremely grateful for the experience I had working with the Royal Commission. There were many times when I was personally impacted by stories of heinous abuse and these stories stay with me today. However, it was incredibly rewarding and empowering to see wave upon wave of people coming forward to participate in the private session process and to have their experiences heard, understood and validated, some of them speaking up and sharing their story for the first time. In many cases, this process lead to, or enhanced healing for survivors of childhood abuse. For me, it was a privilege to be a part of that process. 

Thought Leadership Session #2

Session # 2 - The edge of humanity

The second discussion in our Thought Leadership Series examined the historical context of the Rohingya crisis.  Save the Children Director of Policy, Mat Tinkler was joined by Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development at Deakin University, Dr Andrew Ware to explore the underlying issues.

“The question that looms over the response in the camps is ‘what next?’”, says Mat Tinkler. “While there is cause for hope and optimism, the question is how long will that hope last while the crisis remains unresolved?”

The refugee camps around Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh are currently home to nearly a million Rohingya who have fled their homes in Rakhine State, Myanmar after suffering violent persecution from the Myanmar military. 

The vast majority have arrived in the past twelve months. The camps are overcrowded, under-resourced and are now copping a battering from monsoonal winds and rain. This is now being described as the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

In an effort to answer the question of ‘what next’, Dr Andrew Ware began with how the situation arrived at this point in the first place.

“The Second World War was really the beginning of this current conflict and the trauma we have now,” he says. “So, we’re talking a long history. And a collective memory – some narratives that have been embedded for a very long time … When we talk about the hatred of the Muslims in Myanmar, I think it’s more a case of outright fear. I think there is a really deep-seated fear that Islam is the potential nemesis of Buddhism, and of Myanmar.”

Dr Ware went on to explain the growing sense of despair and hopelessness that has grown among the Rohingya population in Myanmar over the past decade. And how forced isolation and disconnection from services, amenities and basic human rights led to some groups resorting to acts of violence in order to secure their future.

“In response, the tactics the Burmese military have used are the tactics they have used for decades when faced with insurgency,” Dr Ware explained. “That is to drive away populations and try to isolate the insurgents from their potential support base. They do that all the time. They just did it to a much larger number of people this time. The end result has definitely been ethnic cleansing. Whether it was deliberate or not, they’re not there now so how can you describe it any other way?”

For many, much of the blame for the crisis has been laid at the feet of Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. But while Dr Ware is disappointed Suu Kyi has not spoken out using her ‘moral authority’ on the issue, he also pointed out that she and her party are close to powerless in terms of their influence over the military. 

“They still, in some ways, see themselves as being the opposition to the military rather than being the governing party. I don’t think [her party] was anywhere near ready for office. I think Aung San Suu Kyi has been almost naively optimistic … and is only now beginning to figure out how she might move some of the levers of power for anything in the country, let alone in Rakhine.”

The discussion provided a fascinating insight into the perception of the Rohingya by the Burmese majority and the complex role that history, politics and religion have played in forming and fanning the flames of those views. 

A quick Q&A with Mat Tinkler

You said in your intro that there is a real sense of hope and optimism within the camps in Cox’s Bazar - can you elaborate on how this manifests and where you think it comes from?

People have fled the most horrific of circumstances, but in the camps they are safe and are being supported by the Government of Bangladesh, the UN and many organisations like Save the Children. People are grateful for the support and hope that, one day, they will be able to return home. There is also a sense of industriousness as people collect firewood, ensure they have stable shelter and focus on the daily needs of their families.  

Can you see a future in which the Rohingya population are resettled in Rakhine State and given the opportunities and liberties they hope for?


At the moment, it is very difficult to see the circumstances where Rohingya will be safely resettled in Rakhine State. The Government of Myanmar uses conciliatory rhetoric, but unless and until the Rohingya are granted their fundamental rights, including citizenship, it is almost impossible to imagine how people will return voluntarily in large numbers. 

How much does the fate of the Rohingya lie with the relationship between the Myanmar Government and its military – and how much influence can the international community have on this?


The relationship between the Government of Myanmar and the military is complicated, and there are deep-seated and long-held views among many in Myanmar on this issue that will be difficult to shift. But we can’t give up on the Rohingya. The international community needs to put sustained pressure on the Government of Myanmar to ensure these conditions are met. This includes countries like Australia taking a stand for human rights, and a rules-based global order where mass human rights violators are held to account. 

What stands out to you most as a memory from your visits to Cox’s Bazar? 

Above all, the sheer scale of the place. It’s almost impossible to do justice in words to the sight of endless rolling hills, covered in the ramshackle plastic and bamboo shelters that a million fellow humans are calling home.  

You can follow Mat Tinkler on Twitter here.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call Police on 000.

If you have experienced abuse in an institutional setting and/or need support and counselling after giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, please contact the Starting Point Helpline 1800 99 10 99.  

If you need to report an incident of child abuse or neglect, please refer to the Reporting Abuse and Neglect: State and Territory Departments Responsible for Protecting Children.

If you are unsure which service to contact, call Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. Both are available from anywhere in Australia 24 hours a day (toll free) and provide generalist crisis counselling, information and referral services.

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